Romney’s `Losers’ Overlook Ford, Nissan — and Tesla Repaying

Photograph by Tim Rue/Bloomberg

The Tesla Motors Inc.'s Model X vehicle at its unveiling in Hawthorne, California.

In last night’s debate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney singled out four recipients of U.S. Energy Department aid as he lumped such companies together as “losers.”

Romney was essentially repeating a refrain he’d used last week at a campaign event in Pennsylvania, except that in the debate, he said a “friend” had used the term “losers.”

Romney was criticizing a George W. Bush-era program intended to spur the development of greener cars and energy sources. Ford Motor Co., the only major U.S. automaker that didn’t receive a federal bailout, and Nissan Motor Co., which hasn’t had an unprofitable quarter since 2010, received most of the money from the same program that funded Tesla Motors Inc. and Fisker Automotive Inc., two companies Romney named.

Tesla said yesterday, just hours before the debate, that it would begin repaying the U.S. government early for its $465 million loan.

“Don’t forget, you put $90 billion, like 50 years’ worth of breaks, into — into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1,” Romney said as he attacked Obama’s tax policies. “I mean, I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right? So this… is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure.”

Does that make Ford and Nissan losers by default?

Nissan and Ford wouldn’t touch that question directly.

“I never heard the presidential candidate use the word Nissan,” spokesman David Reuter said.

“Our ’One Ford Plan’ is working,” said Ford spokeswoman Christin Baker. “The company has had 12 consecutive profitable quarters. Our ongoing introduction of new products is leading in quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value.”

But it’s got to sting for two establishment companies to be lumped together with two failed enterprises and two start-ups.

The startups – Tesla and Fisker – wouldn’t consider themselves losers either. In addition to its loan announcement, Tesla said yesterday it expects to be cash-flow positive by the end of November with a quarterly profit in 2013. Fisker, which was cut off from drawing down more of its loan last year after failing to meet milestones, just raised more than $100 million from private investors to keep developing a second car.

Ford, which got $5.6 billion in loans, has been trumpeting its new C-Max, which will only come in hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric versions in the U.S. The company used U.S. money to develop its EcoBoost engine, part of its strategy for increasing  fuel efficiency in its cars and trucks. Customers can even buy the engine in the F-150, the best-selling passenger vehicle in country.

While Romney complained about Obama being too generous with taxpayer money for green energy, companies including Chrysler LLC have complained about the administration not giving out billions of dollars it could have lent. Chrysler and General Motors Co. both pulled their loan applications after delays in decisions from regulators. Start-ups Bright Automotive Inc. and Carbon Motors Corp. complained that their applications had fallen victim to politics earlier this year after the Energy Department loan programs became a political football following Solyndra’s bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, Romney should be familiar with failed automakers from his youth when dad George was CEO of American Motors Corp.

Not familiar with that company’s cars?

That’s because it was absorbed by Chrysler a quarter century ago.

An automotive loser, so to speak.

 

Written with Alan Ohnsman

 

 

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